Art by Yousef Amairi

Art by Yousef Amairi
the struggle continues

August 15, 2009

Forget the photo-ops, Where are the Jobs? Lana Payne The Telegram, St John's, Newfoundland, Aug 15, 2009

With tens of thousands of discouraged workers throwing in the towel, consumer bankruptcies on the rise and a less than stellar construction season in most of the country, Canada's economic woes are far from over.

According to the latest labour force survey from Statistics Canada, some 53,000 people gave up looking for work in July and another 79,000 paid employees joined them on the unemployment line.

Officially, because of the way Statistics Canada counts the unemployed, these discouraged workers - because they have given up on finding a job - are no longer included in the official unemployment numbers. They have joined the ranks of the hidden unemployed. That means the true unemployment picture is a lot worse than our statistics let on.

Indeed, when you include the discouraged workers, the underemployed, and those who hope to get recalled to work, Canada is already back into double-digit unemployment - an area we haven't seen in well over a decade. If these workers were included, the country's unemployment rate would be over 12 per cent, not 8.6 per cent.

In our province, according to the Statistics Canada survey, some 2,800 fewer Newfoundlanders and Labradorians were employed in July compared to June.

But unlike the Canadian trend of discouraged workers, in this province the numbers joining the labour force and looking for work continue to grow, indicating there is still confidence in the job market. The increase in the number of unemployed likely reflects the number of workers losing their jobs out West and the dismal year for both the forestry and fishing industries.

This means the economic climate in rural Newfoundland and Labrador is a lot tougher than what we're seeing in the more urban regions of the province. And while the recession, from a big-picture viewpoint, hasn't had the same impact on our province as it has had on others, that in no way mitigates the very real hardship being felt by those who have been laid off or who have had their incomes reduced as a result of this global economic recession.

And sometimes statistics do not give the real picture. For example, while 79,000 Canadians were thrown out of their paid jobs in July, officially only 45,000 are counted because thousands of unemployed Canadians are now considered self-employed. This create-your-own-job (or jobs with no wages attached to them) phenomenon has been on the rise, not surprisingly, since the labour market began its free-fall last October.

Since then, self-employment has risen by 75,000 as Canadians desperate for work try their hand at making their own jobs.

But the loss of nearly half a million jobs since October is only half the picture. The other half is the elimination of several hundred thousand manufacturing jobs between 2004 and the fall of 2008.

And if the dismal jobs report wasn't bad enough, last week also brought news that more and more Canadians are filing for bankruptcy. The number of bankruptcies has risen by more than 50 per cent from June of last year to June 2009.

Growing debt loads and rising unemployment do not make for a good combination.

And where are our politicians? The premiers are trying to focus attention on getting stimulus out the door so construction workers are actually working. They are trying to push Ottawa into fixing our employment insurance system so the country's unemployed are not destitute. They are trying to bring attention to a whole host of economic issues, including the state of pensions.

For Stephen Harper and his crew, this summer has been about announcing and re-announcing infrastructure work or, for the jaded among us - holding photo-ops. These media events usually include workers, leaving the impression that the federal government is doing lots for the unemployed, and yet more than 1.5 million Canadians have no jobs and are struggling. And more than half of them have no EI benefits. Is it any wonder bankruptcies are skyrocketing?

And then there's Michael Ignatieff. Where has he been this summer? If the polls are any indication, Canadians are also starting to wonder where he is. It appears Harper's visit to the local hardware store to promote the government's home renovation tax credit and other such media events are more effective than the policy wonks would like.

At the moment, the only thing Ignatieff has going for him - as one seasoned political watcher said to me recently - is that he's not Stephen Harper. The question is, will that be enough or will Canadians, unsure of who he is and what he stands for, be more inclined to go with the devil they know?

It's time for the Liberal leader to recognize that he is no longer in academia, but the fast-paced, often not-too-pretty world of politics and television. And Harper may be a lot of things that I don't like, but he is shrewd. He is ruthless and he lives, sleeps, eats and breathes political strategy.

The recession, accelerating job loss, the health-care debate in the United States and the sale of Nortel all represent political opportunity for the Liberal leader. Instead, Ignatieff has been giving the prime minister an easy time of it, an open net.

And Harper is just the guy to take advantage. Indeed, he knows no other way. Time for the Liberal leader to get with the program or at least join the game.

Lana Payne is president of the Newfoundland and Labrador Federation of Labour. She can be reached by e-mail at Her column returns Aug. 29.

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